Emoji are the new grotesques of architecture

© Attika Architekten/ Bart van Hoek

So why is this on TreeHugger? In his book The Shape of Green, Lance Hosey has written that “If it's not beautiful, it's not sustainable.”

And some people think that this building is not only ugly, but the end of architecture as we know it, with what The Verge calls “emoji cast in concrete as modern gargoyles.”

It is actually a feature on a lovely mixed-use building by Attika Architeckten in Amersfoort, the Netherlands.

To be precise, these are not actually gargoyles, which by definition are elaborate scuppers that keep water off the face of a building, from the same root as gargle; they are in fact grotesques, "any fanciful human or animal form, especially when it indulges in caricature or absurdity."

Architect Changiz Tehrani tells James Vincent of The Verge:

In classical architecture they used heads of the king or whatever, and they put that on the façade. So we were thinking, what can we use as an ornament so when you look at this building in 10 or 20 years you can say ‘hey this is from that year!’” The answer was obvious: emoji.

The emoji designs came from a template used by WhatsApp, which he converted to 3D and then had them cast in concrete. The Verge's Vincent continues with Tehrani:

Critics might say that using emoji in architecture is a gimmick that will soon show its age, but Tehrani says that’s precisely why the project is interesting. “If you look at history, people always think ‘Oh this is timeless,’ or ‘This will stay forever,’ and they’re always wrong.” Better, he says, to accept that aiming for architectural immortality is impossible, and have fun embracing what’s truly contemporary. “It’s like with Facebook. Facebook used to be cool and now it’s just for older people. So maybe we won’t use emoji in 10 years — that’s fine. It’s still from our time.”

Lennox CaricatureGrotesque on Toronto's Old City Hall/CC BY 2.0

This is hardly the end of architecture, but in fact is a continuation of a glorious tradition. When he designed Toronto’s City Hall in 1889, E. J. Lennox carved caricatures of City officials into the stone.

Lennox stone selfieE. J. Lennox stone selfie on Toronto's Old City Hall/CC BY 2.0

Lennox even did a stone selfie. It is really no different than what Tehrani is doing today: having a bit of fun. ”… with our architecture we always like to put in small details that makes the project a little bit more than a boring building.”

Tehrani says the reaction has been uniformly positive; clearly he has not looked at the Verge’s twitter feed today.

Emoji are the new grotesques of architecture
Why not have a bit of fun?

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